Erasmus’ Changes to Divorce and Remarriage
The abuse of marriage together with the longing of many Church leaders and members for acceptance of divorce and remarriage prompted Erasmus to dilute the firm teachings of Scripture with humanistic philosophies.
Erasmus emphasized the idea that love should come before any law on marriage. He held the opinion that it was not a loving act to allow many thousands of couples to continue in an unhappy partnership. Thus he reasoned that if they could be allowed divorce and remarriage, many could be saved from unhappiness.
The humanistic premise of Erasmus was that love must at times be allowed to do what is legally forbidden, but seems justified in the situation. He argued that the Church should seek to deliver those in suffering marriages like Jesus sought the lost sheep.
The views of Erasmus on the Sermon on the Mount are significant. He believed this Scripture (including Matt. 5:31-32) was not spoken to the multitudes, but to the disciples, who were the purest part of Christ’s Body.
THese were the ones whom he thought belonged to the Kingdom of Heaven, and thus, were able to live above the need to divorce.
Within the Church however, he thought there existed another group which did have need of divorce, oath-taking, and the like. These, in his mind, were the imperfect ones who are found in large numbers and constitute the kingdom of the world. In this sphere, Erasmus concluded, it was not wrong to:
The Reformers’ View on Divorce and Remarriage
In their rush however, to free the people from the ‘false doctrine’ that sacraments (like marriage) provided grace for salvation, Luther and other Reformers also adopted Erasmus’ views on divorce and remarriage!
Divorce for Adultery
Martin Luther based his reasoning on OT law which required adulterers to be stoned. He and other Reformers reasoned that even though the (current) civil government didn’t carry out this sentence, the adulterer could still be considered ‘dead’ in the eyes of God. Hence, a spouse victimized by adultery would be free to remarry, as if their partner were dead!
Although a harsh judgment against the adulterer/adulteress, the net result was that more and more allowance was made to justify divorce and remarriage.
Divorce for Desertion
Again, if a man deserted his believing wife and children, he was to be considered no better than a Gentile (Barbarian) or unbeliever who deserved the same punishment as an adulterer.
Divorce for Disobediance
Finally, if a wife refused to submit to her husband, “then the husband should let a ‘Vashti’ go, and take an ‘Esther’, just like King Ahasuerus did.” (see Story of Esther).
Divorce for Barrenness
Still another reason put forward (supposedly to protect the right of a Nobleman to heirs) was ‘impotence’. A barren woman could then be put away, and another fertile woman put in her place.
Soon convenience and emotion had replaced reason and longstanding tradition regarding how to handle marriage difficulties.
The Debasement of Marriage and Doctrine
As Protestantism evolved further and further away from mainstream Christian values and principles, more and more reasons for divorce were added to the list. In the 1980s for instance, the list of legal reasons for divorce grew to this:
- Mental or extreme cruelty
- Physical Cruelty
- Nonsupport / Wilful Neglect
- Drug Addiction
- Conviction of a felony
- Living Apart
- transmission of a venereal disease
- Public Defamation
- Child neglect or abuse
While all these reasons are severe, and each appears justified in proper circumstances, the fact is that many of these problems involve either gray areas or problems which could or should have a plausible (even if difficult) Christian solution beyond easy divorce. But this wide list itself was only a short stop-gap for a quickly deteriorating legal situation.
The question of who could petition for divorce, and whether it should be granted unilaterally, is also a difficult one. Prior to the 80s, the party petitioning had to be themselves innocent. by about 1985, most states in the USA allowed “no fault” divorce, with no other reason needed than “irreconcilable differences”. This effectively replaced the whole list above.
It can’t be denied that with the new ‘no fault’ view of divorce/remarriage, it is much easier to disolve a marriage than at any previous time in Christian history. The net effect is to discourage partners from resolving differences, greatly increasing the number of divorces.
This sadly, is the final legacy of following Erasmus and his humanistic philosophy down the path further and further away from the clear and plain teaching of Jesus Himself.
Now Christians, living in a Sodom-like environment in their own countries, are quickly arriving at the foretold time in which a nation of adulterers and adulteresses (James 4:4), will no longer endure sound doctrine (2nd Tim. 4:3-4).